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Parasite diversity of sticklebacks from the Baltic Sea

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In the brackish Baltic Sea, the species richness and diversity of parasite communities of three- (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and nine-spined sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius) were investigated. The studies regarded four localities at the Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg coasts, northern Germany, where salinities were between 10 and 18‰. Species richness was relatively high, attaining 15 parasite species in G. aculeatus and 16 in P. pungitius, which are only surpassed by former investigations that lasted a year or more. An analysis of parasite species identity revealed clear differences in diverse localities referring to different supracommunities. The infracommunity comprised maximally of eight species in G. aculeatus and seven in P. pungitius, which corresponds to former investigations. The mean value of infracommunity with 5.3 parasites is the highest value ever found in small-sized fish. An infracommunity index revealed that the digenean Podocotyle atomon and Magnibursatus caudofilamentosa and the copepod Thersitina gasterostei were the most abundant parasites. The relationship of component community to mean infracommunity can judge about the threshold level, which allows parasite to settle successfully. An important factor to form parasite communities is the season of their appearance, which depends also on their reproduction and on the presence of intermediate hosts. In addition, the choice of prey (for passive infection) and quality of habitats (for active infection) influences the constitution of the parasite communities. The diversity values of parasites were low in all hosts, which is due to the brackish milieu and by different levels of eutrophication, which both create extreme environments. These do not mirror in every case the biodiversity of the respective habitats. The parasite community was in a level of early heterotrophic succession where low diversity is combined with high population density, which is characteristic for extreme environments. Therefore, intraspecific competition dominates and niches are wide. Under this aspect and regard of the actually valid definition that niches are dynamic systems between organisms and environment, the theory of vacant niches of some authors can be rejected.

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I wish to thank Dr. Uwe Strohbach for help in catching the sticklebacks, and Maria Machola for her assistance in preparing the fish and parasites.

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Correspondence to C. Dieter Zander.

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Contribution to the International Biodiversity Observation Year (IBOY) 2001, project: Survey of Stickleback Parasites.

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Zander, C.D. Parasite diversity of sticklebacks from the Baltic Sea. Parasitol Res 100, 287 (2007).

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  • Species Richness
  • Intermediate Host
  • Parasite Species
  • Host Population
  • Core Species